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Warren Olney was joined by Jan Perry, Eric Garcetti, Kevin James, Wendy Greuel, and Austin Beutner for the mayoral campaign’s equivalent of speed dating, a one-hour forum that was fast and furious, introducing leaders from LA’s nonprofit world to their prospective civic partner-in-chief.

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The Mayoral Candidate Forum was the closing act for Tuesday’s Southern California Grantmakers Public Policy Conference and the audience was equal parts non-profit organizations, foundations and corporate grantmakers, and governmental agencies.

Olney suggested that the place to start was with the question “Why would anyone want to govern LA, it’s simply ungovernable!” but in light of the optimistic audience he settled down for “LA is one of the wealthiest cities in the country with one of the most rigorous philanthropic communities yet the rate of giving by local people falls behind other great cities. As Mayor, what would you do to change this?”

Jan Perry offered her vision, Eric gave his strategy, Wendy presented her record, Austin established a standard and Kevin went on the offensive.

“If LA is going to convince Angelenos to “Give where you live,” it will depend on us making LA a business friendly city and a city that people can trust,’ said James, “because businesses are our philanthropic partners and because people won’t contribute in a corrupt environment.”

Olney stayed with the subject of corruption in Los Angeles, a theme that has been echoed all week in the wake of the University of Chicago report detailing the LA area’s second place standing in civic corruption convictions. “Where is the corruption in LA and what would you do to get rid of it?” he asked.

James seized the opportunity to point out the federal investigations of LA’s Housing Department, of LA’s Department of Building & Safety and LA’s Memorial Coliseum Commission claiming that the simplest way to end the Culture of Corruption was to expose it.

Garcetti took time to point out that the corruption wasn’t all within the City of LA, “The Wall Street Journal article referred to the region, it includes Riverside and Ventura and small cities as well.”

Greuel pointed out her record as City Controller, auditing city departments and uncovering corruption, and expressed shock that LA’s internal standards for corruption varied according to the funding source.

Perry pointed at term limits as a motivating factor in civic corruption and pointed at the City of LA’s redistricting process as an example that must be exposed by people who are willing to tell their stories.

Buetner relied on his experience in the private sector as a contrast with his experience in City Hall and pointed out that the people in LA aren’t confident that their money was being well spent.

In a room filled with 150 philanthropic professionals, the first quarter of the Mayoral Candidate speed dating event was spent on corruption and the need for LA to establish the credibility of LA as an operating partner capable of connecting causes with financial support.

“Do we need to do other things first, such as improving our reputation,” asked Olney, “in order to get people to trust us and invest in LA?”

Beutner jumped on this as an opportunity to point out the disconnect in LA, one that sees huge amounts of money spent on projects of little impact while the greatest opportunities go unfunded. He pointed at the Cultural Affairs funding that came from the LAX expansion, one that will be spent on public art within the airport while school art programs starve.

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Perry responded with her record, offering up examples of her ability to create multi-use projects that combine funding sources to accomplish several objectives through efficient leveraging, resulting in open space and green space, education programs and recreational facilities, all of which improve the quality of life.

James contended that the imperative is to focus resources on the core, one that puts the services where they are needed. He pointed at LA’s “one in five potential employees is unemployed” claim of Beutner as support for his contention that a depressed economy leads to businesses that suffer, resulting in a reduction in donations, in volunteers, and in products.

“Focus on making the city business friendly or all the talk is noise,” said James, “and if we can restore the public trust in city government, it will be amazing what we can do together.”

Greuel positioned collaboration as the key to moving forward, offering Ciclavia as an example of an event that brings Angelenos together and Garcetti offered up Green Streets as an example of how LA must explore innovations in the basics such as water reclamation and street engineering.

Danielle Brazell of Arts for LA asked “What will you do to deepen the City of LA’s investment in its creative and cultural economies, knowing that one in eight jobs is directly related to the creative economy in Los Angeles.”

Beutner positioned creative industries as the foundation of our economy, it’s why the world comes to LA because it’s part of LA’s DNA. He offered insight into private sector investment opportunities that significantly exceed public incentives and that require us to be creative about pursuing investments.

Perry offered her record in tapping the same pools of funding and added that investments in infrastructure, from hotels to attractions to supporting facilities, are key to stimulating the local economy and the immediate creative economy.

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James called for the basics of a long term fiscal plan for LA so that it doesn’t continue to run deficits, Garcetti called for greater support of cultural tourism, a festival for music and theatre, and monthly Ciclavias, while Greuel wants to invest in Arts Education.

When offered an opportunity to pay homage to prior Mayors who inspire them, Beutner responded “Mayor Bradley for the inclusion, Mayor Riordan for measurement, accountability and transparency, and Mayor Villaraigosa for the inspiration, after all, he is a dreamer.”

Perry invoked the legend of Bradley, “Hands down!” and pointed out “Everything we know about downtown, transportation, housing, helping the homelessness is part of his legacy, and his intelligence, focus, humility, and elegance in politics are the standards of excellence.”

Beutner promised to “Show LA the Money!” while Garcetti vowed to support more cultural events. Perry pointed to her strong private/public relationships, James committed to hosting a weekly Mayoral Radio Show and Greuel called for a for nonprofits and investors.


The SCG’s Mayoral Candidate Forum was co-hosted by the Center for Nonprofit Management and the California Community Foundation. Audio of the event is available.

The next opportunity to see LA’s Mayoral Candidates in action is at the five-part AIA/LA Mayoral Candidates Forumheld on Friday nights at 7pm at Deaton Hall. Perry and Beutner have already appeared and James is up this Friday, followed by Greuel and Garcetti.

Stephen Box